Editorial | Enemy of the People? Whatever. We have work to do.

John Bebow, president and CEO of The Center for Michigan and Bridge Magazine

I wasn’t there, but the White House Correspondents Dinner in April was my darkest moment in 28 years of professional journalism.  

Comedian Michelle Wolf had full right to express her anti-Trump diatribe. But not at the White House Correspondents Dinner. The journalists who hosted that ambush betrayed the profession. They lost sight of their fundamental obligation to coolly carry on, dig deep, report facts and ask tough but fair questions of everyone in power always – Democrats, Republicans, whoever.

The code of conduct in journalism is supposed to transcend any local, state, or national political era. Instead, the White House Correspondents Dinner fed President Donald Trump’s “fake news” narrative.

So, four months later, it’s a bit shrill for news organizations across the country to publish collective editorials today to fight Trump’s “enemy of the people” slams against journalists. A better approach is for reporters and editors to just do their real jobs every day – fairly and accurately – in every community in this country.

Journalists need to convince the customers – the readers  – not Trump.

It’s not easy. Waves of corporate cutbacks have decimated newsrooms across Michigan and the country. The 24-hour, social media news cycle leaves today’s journalists outnumbered and gasping for air much of the time.

At Bridge Magazine, it means everything to have several thousand readers now making contributions to our work. Steadily, that financial support builds a market for our state-focused, public-service, nonprofit journalism. Thank you!

In June, state Senator Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, then a candidate for governor, attacked Bridge as an example of why the public has lost trust in mainstream media. (For the record, Bridge readership has doubled this year.) Bridge publicly responded to Colbeck and offered respect for his public service. Throughout 2018, Bridge has critically analyzed the campaigns of all Republicans and Democrats in the governor’s race. At some point, supporters of all candidates have not liked our coverage.

That’s just fine. Public service journalism isn’t a good fit for the thin-skinned – or many partisans.

Some worry that Trump’s “enemy of the people” tirades might provoke actual violence against journalists. If that happens, society will judge whether blood is on Trump’s hands. Truth is, danger is statistically remote but a very real part of journalism.

Most recently, we mourn the community journalists in Maryland who died in June at the hands of a gunman after a long local dispute. More than 1,300 journalists have been killed – many covering global wars and strife – since I joined the Traverse City Record-Eagle as a cub reporter in 1990.

I’ll admit… It stings to hear my profession called “the enemy of the people.” It hurts to see the occasional angry American wear a T-shirt proclaiming, “Rope. Tree. Journalist.”

If Trump wants to call journalists the “enemy of the people,” well, that’s part of his legacy. Newspaper editorials won’t stop him. Begging Trump to retract is a grandstanding whine. Better to return to a bedrock credo of journalism: “Don’t become part of the story.”

Today’s journalists work in challenging conditions but have the daily opportunity and obligation to report and inform the public in truly fascinating times. Reporters cover political debate and upheaval, victory, triumph, tragedy, pain, suffering, natural disaster and truly dangerous professions such as policing and firefighting every day. We should do so stoically.

A presidential tweet doesn’t make a journalist a victim.

Much of the soul of American journalism resides way beyond the ego-filled confines of the White House briefing room: countless fair and well-documented reports about how local officials spend the public’s money, the fire down the street, keen profiles of the folks running for state legislature, great and true tales about the human experience, and getting the names right in obits and wedding announcements.

Whether it means taking verbal fire in a political rally, gunfire in war, or being the only witness at a local government meeting, the daily work of the Fourth Estate best speaks for itself. It doesn’t benefit from chest-puffing defense on editorial pages.

Journalists might also acknowledge that there is, indeed, plenty of “fake news” today. Especially on all the cable news channels, which have, too often, abandoned real reporting in favor of endless, pre-cooked, hyper-partisan shouting and blame. For years this irresponsible infotainment has done its share in tearing this country apart at the seams.

Folks have a right to wear those “Rope. Tree. Journalist” t-shirts until the moment they act on the slogan. Trump has a free speech right to call journalists “the enemy of the people” unless and until he orders fellow citizens to take up arms against reporters.

And Bridge has a right – and duty – to keep publishing the most credible and impactful Michigan reporting we can muster. We’re human and plenty fallible. But we won’t stop aspiring to be the friend of the people through fair presentation of truth and facts. It is a privilege to have the daily opportunity to work for your readership.

John Bebow is president and CEO of The Center for Michigan and Bridge Magazine. The views expressed in this column are Bebow’s alone and do not represent an editorial position of Bridge Magazine or its staff. With very rare exception, Bridge Magazine does not take editorial positions. Because there is an over-supply of opinion in the media and an under-supply of factual reporting.

Like what you’re reading in Bridge? Please consider a donation to support our work!

We are a nonprofit Michigan news site focused on issues that impact all citizens. In an era of click bait and biased news, we focus on taking the time to learn both sides of a story before we post it. Bridge stories are always free, but our work costs money. If our journalism helps you understand and love Michigan more, please consider supporting our work. It takes just a moment to donate here.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Comments

Dan Gilmartin
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 8:06am

Well done, John.

Bill Krasean
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 8:46am

Thank you, John, for a reminder of what journalism is really all about.

Mark Schell
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 8:53am

Right on, John!

Arjay
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 9:07am

Bridge writers and readers are mostly liberals. I went to a Bridge community forum once. People there were not receptive to other ideas. Even the moderator was slanting the questions. You can talk all you want about non-partisanship, but do a survey of your writers and your readers. I suspect you will find that most are liberal in their thinking. Every story seems to be anti Trump.

Alex
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 10:11am

"Every story seems to be anti Trump."

You realize it's a state/local publication, right? That covers state/local issues, right? Saying that every story in Bridge is anti-Trump is like saying that every story in the New York Times is anti-Rick Snyder. Maybe read the articles before accusing them of bias.

Christian Guest
Fri, 08/17/2018 - 9:31am

I gotta agree with Alex here: This response seems to come from an angle of sporting for a fight rather than dealing with the content of Bebow's essay. It both misses the point, and makes the point (of the article) with brilliant inarticulateness.

Christian Guest
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 9:29am

The Daily Show, Cobert Report and SNL before them were clearly satire but the spin-offs intermingling editorial commentary with overdrawn and cleverly crafted comic zingers has blurred the lines between entertainment and journalism, Now fake "news" networks owned by plutocrats as well as demagogic social media outlets are exploiting the public appetite for receiving information in this undisciplined format. It sucks....for us, for professional journalists, and I see it, as Mr. Bebow describes in his essay, tearing at the fabric of American Democracy.
"Blow up your [computer], throw away your papers, eat a lot of peaches, and build yourself a [Bridge]. Thanks, John Bebow.

J Hendricks
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 9:32am

While it is hard not to see a left -leaning tilt to Bridge, it is by and large a responsible and respected source of fair news , certainly about the only source in-depth news on Michigan. As for the national media - not so much. The mainstream press has largely lost all semblance of any inclination to fair-mindeness - it is 24/7 bash Trump for anything and everything. We expect the news to hard and fair; what we have is non-stop vitriol and hatred, and it is not unexpected what with some 90% of national journalists leaning Democratic. It is truly like watching a baseball game where all the umps are unabashedly on the side of one team. What this does is simply push me -as well as many other "deplorables" even more strongly into backing Trump no matter what. The mainstream press no longer is worthy of the term "journalism." It is indeed Fake News.

John Q Public
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 10:48am

When the Presidents lies as often as he does, it's the job of the media to point that out. That's not "Fake News", it's the facts. It's clear that many of the President's supporters don't like being confronted with that reality.

Greg
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 10:23pm

Can you give me an example of President Trump's lies?
Thanks

Agnosticrat 2.0
Fri, 08/17/2018 - 1:43pm

No Collusion.

Rick
Wed, 08/22/2018 - 11:03am

Examples? So many to choose from...
Right out of the gate Trump lied about the size of crowd at his inauguration (that with photos that showed the opposite), that there were 3 million illegal votes for Clinton. Since then it's been more and more lies every day. Even his press secretary has to cover for him and apologize for Trump's statement that he has created three times as many jobs for black workers as President Barack Obama did.

She loves her F...
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 11:23am

J Hendricks, I could not agree with you any more! I read and listen to all. From State funded Public Radio, left biased CNN, right biased Hannity to ***C-Span ****(at times, the only place to get straight unbiased information)! Critical thinking and the understanding of why and where is the money leading this country. Globalization has been working on our Constitutional rights and freedoms with infiltration into all states and local levels for over 40 years now, with the last 10 at a high speed rate. No Child Left Behind, Common Core along with "Race to the Top" has been destroying OUR " free, public, and now federally mandated" schools. Colleges and universities have been inundated with large donor money from outside for "cultural studies"that aim to separate and devide not unite! Ultra Progressives within the United Nations have nothing to gain with the Free People of United States and our Constitution !!! We have freedom for a reason. Our founders fought to the death to protect what others now are trying to destroy from within our country, within our schools, within our free press! Stand strong and God Bless America

Mark
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 12:12pm

I think Bridge does a credible job reporting issues that affect our state. While you may decry the coverage of Trump as being slanted against him, I ask you this: If any other President has done the things that Trump has, and does on a daily basis, would you be okay with that? I expect a POTUS to be be working for all Americans, and to conduct him/herself in a way that a responsible and credible person would. Trump's insane and demeaning tweets (which I think ought to be ignored so that we can see what it actually going on in the government), repeated lies, and attempts to undermine the rule of law, as well as the appointment of unqualified people to serve our country, are the tip of the iceberg. Without a free press to hold the administration accountable (and that works for any administration), we would see the goings on swept under the rug. When you have people thinking the press is their enemy, then you have achieved the dream of every dictator that held power in the last century. That is not normal here, and you should think about that. If the Trump Administration was doing nothing wrong, we would not be seeing daily outrages over the latest. Every administration has come under scrutiny by the press. This is the first one to be so brazenly corrupt. If you don't see that, then you are not paying attention.

Michael W Brinkman
Fri, 08/17/2018 - 12:22am

AMEN!

duane
Fri, 08/17/2018 - 2:33am

Mark,
The reality is that the media hide what they knew of past Presidents' activities that would not been acceptable in the context of the times, that protect them from public scrutiny, that ensured the American public was ill informed. That was done by a 'free press'.

Do you even know what a Presidential lie looks like, when LBJ justified the war in Vietnam claiming that the US was attack by a few power boats an was a lie that had cataclysmic consequences for our country and the world. We know what Trump is saying everyday not from a 'free press' but because he puts it out for all to read in his tweets.

You may not like his personal style, but that is only an irritation compared to the actions of many past Presidents that the 'free press' sheltered from public scrutiny.

George Moroz
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 9:46am

It's important to remember the functional distinction between reporters and opinion writers. I think there are places in John's commentary where he mistakenly collapses that important distinction.

Gretchen Davis
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 10:34am

Mr. Bebow, thank you for writing this piece. The past year has been difficult for many of Michigan's voters as well as voters across the country. With so much of the news and social media sites always reacting to the shenanigan's coming out of our own Legislature, Congress, and the Oval Office it seems to be more and more difficult not to see news articles and videos that are nothing but "knee-jerk" reactions.
Distraction is a powerful tool, and if distracted enough many will turn a blind-eye or disengage totally from keeping focused on what's really going on around us. I wholeheartedly agree with what I have read here today, and congratulate The Bridge , and the many journalists that contribute to The Bridge for keep us informed, while holding themselves to a higher standard than some, and presenting the public with a very fair presentation of facts and truth.

Todd
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 10:54am

So then try writing stories without such a slanted bias. If this was done when Obama was POTUS you'd be chased out of town. Keep it up though because this is one of many reasons why Trump won and will win another term.

Amie Stid
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 12:36pm

Well said, John!

Kevin Grand
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 3:16pm

"Trump has a free speech right to call journalists “the enemy of the people” unless and until he orders fellow citizens to take up arms against reporters."

Mr. Bebow, if you wonder why the stigma of "fake news" is bandied about so much (and occasionally at The Bridge), you might want to start focusing on someone a little closer here to Michigan instead of Pres. Trump on the topic of attacking journalists?

http://thejewishvoice.com/2018/08/15/journalist-laura-loomer-attacked-ev...

Did I mention that they even stole that reporter's property?

Any particular reason why The Bridge choose not to tell its readers about THAT story?

It only happened just last week.

Susan
Mon, 08/20/2018 - 11:29am

The same "journalist" who claimed Maxine Waters slapped her, and filed a charge, after she harassed Ms. Waters, up to and including when she refused to leave the members-only elevator in Congress.

Kevin Grand
Wed, 08/22/2018 - 9:50pm

As I recall from the video, Susan, Waters' staffer actually physically shoved her away as she attempted to get Waters to just answer a simple question she tried asking her for several minutes in the hallway leading up to that particular elevator.

Now if. Conservative or a member of their staff were to assault a member of the press doing the exact same thing, it would be a Page 1, above the fold story for several days at least.

And considering the above piece, The Bridge would also probably keep it on the top of their website in a show of "solidarity" for a similar length of time.

T. R. Shaw
Thu, 08/16/2018 - 3:19pm

Very well stated. Journalists are not the enemy, ignorance is.

duane
Fri, 08/17/2018 - 2:15am

As the phrase goes, I am a long time reader with extended bursts of avoiding Bridge because of my perceived bias at Bridge.
I read Bridge for the readers’ comments more than the articles; readers offer food for thought.
My perceived Bridge bias is not about Party partisanship. My concern is about the arrogance/aloofness of ‘journalists’ insulating themselves from the public. ‘Journalists’ even at Bridge give the impression of detachment from readers, when was the last time a writer or editor even acknowledge a reader other than when they offered a grammatical or factual correction?
When has the Bridge discussed readers concerns or questions about reporting? Does the Bridge bring in readers to be part of an editorial meeting, or involve some in the planning of articles, or ask them to critique articles and have a conversation about their critiques?
Can Bridge staff describe a set of guiding principles that is used at Bridge to guide how the work is done? Does Bridge/staff have a means to regularly verify practices conform to those principles, are the results offered for review to readers or others outside of Bridge[non-journalists]? Has Bridge offered their principles to or asked for guiding principles from other organizations?
Others have suffered through what ‘journalism’ is experiencing at the hands of journalists. Does the ‘free press’ realize they have facilitated this treatment on others?
From a bit of personal and as part of an organization experience with addressing prejudices, the perceptions, and consequences I offer a couple of thoughts for changing the perceptions and consequences. There are two things; accept that the perceptions are real to those that have them and they will give you the ways and means for changing their beliefs. What you have to do is set down with them [not across a table but next to them] asking them why the feel this way and what can be done to correct it, then you must listen and they must believe you are being listened to. Recognize that listening as a reporter is different than the listening about yourself and what you are doing, and then you must turn what you hear into [verifiable] actions. The ‘free press’ including Bridge doesn’t seem to recognize readers [the public] are as smart and capable as ‘journalist’, they need to be included in how and what you do. Secrecy, such as anonymous sources, are no longer trusted, so that must change by being inclusive and open.
It is your choice to fight or change, and winning the ‘hearts and minds’ are never won by trying to prove those you want to change wrong. Please consider this, I want you to succeed I want to be better informed.

Agnosticrat 2.0
Fri, 08/17/2018 - 2:17pm

"The code of conduct in journalism is supposed to transcend any local, state, or national political era. Instead, the White House Correspondents Dinner fed President Donald Trump’s “fake news” narrative."
If there is such a code of conduct it follows there would be enough editors declining to attend that they would never have had one to begin with.
I can point to several occasions that local journalists have been treated as celebrities by politicos as well. Across the entire spectrum journalists would do well to avoid the limelight.
To paraphrase Laura Ingraham "Shut up and"... report.

Ken Wheeler
Fri, 08/17/2018 - 3:00pm

"A presidential tweet doesn’t make a journalist a victim." I agree with almost everything in your column, but the above quote and the part about the correspondents dinner in the lead.
No, a tweet does not make a journalist a victim, but it does sow the "violence" seed that can fester its way into physical attacks and threats against the media for doing its job. The CNN reporter at the Trump rally faced a myriad of hate and antagonism from participants because he dared to be there. Trump doesn't want anyone at his rallies who doesn't agree with him. It's like a closed society that abhors and doesn't all dissent. As for the corespondents dinner, that, to my understanding is not a press conference, but it is a rally of sorts that allows reporters, editors, press secretaries and even presidents a moment to let their hair down away from the issues and tedium of the office and work. Though comedian Michelle Wolf probably would not have been my first choice for a speaker and some of her comedy was beyond the pale, it was the organization's decision to hire her to show up. Apparently, the president didn't want to take any heat or criticism and didn't show. You said the journalists who hosted that ambush betrayed the profession. They lost sight of their fundamental obligation to coolly carry on, dig deep, report facts and ask tough but fair questions of everyone in power always – Democrats, Republicans, whoever. Those journalists didn't go to the bash to do any digging, reporting, or asking of questions to any politicians. That wasn't the intent of the bash. They were there to let their hair down, be entertained and relax. I know how tense a newsroom can get, having worked in one for more than 40 years. A joke now and then can sure help. And having a comedian is part of the festivities of the correspondents dinner. After that night of levity and fun, the reporters, editors and press secretaries got back to their jobs. In a way, I'm sure Trump was glad to hear his name mentioned during the comedy session and afterwards; it also gave him fodder for his next tweets. But the journalists got back to their jobs the very next day and for some of them I'm sure that very night. And that very important job is to uncover the truth, wherever it may lie.

duane
Sat, 08/18/2018 - 1:25am

There lies the issue in your last line, what is the truth, who is the gate keeper of the truth, and do you believe the 'free press' is reporting the whole truth?
What is your truth seems to a tweet leading to violence, mine is a violent attack on a group of official from one party following days of verbal attacks by politicians from the other party.
Was the bash planned for relieving tension or was it to target particular individuals? I wonder if you believe any 'jokes' relieve tension or have you ever heard 'jokes' that created tension, especially those that target an individual making them feel personally attack.
I learned a long time ago that if you sluff off comments, whether they be in the form of a joke or a direct remark, you condemn the target of the 'joke' to suffer, to the point where not only the individual but a whole group suffers because of the atmosphere such 'jokes' create. I was taught to in some fashion or another to speak out against 'jokes' that do harm to others.
I believe declining esteem for the 'free press' is an important issue, and where you see the 'bash' a tension release for the 'free press' I saw it as one more self inflicted cut to the reputation of the 'free press'.

duane
Fri, 08/17/2018 - 5:13pm

Rather than bemoan the current conditions of lowering respect for the ‘free press’, developing actions plans to change that into public trust would seem to be more important to both the public and to the ‘free press’. Even Bridge with all of the high honors from the ‘free press’ should be trying to rectify the public’s diminishing confidence and trust. The only reason why phrases like ‘fake news’ and ‘enemy of the people’ should concern to the ‘free press’ is because they believe it is taking hold with a significant part of the public.
My perceived Bridge bias is not about Party partisanship. My concern is about the arrogance/aloofness of ‘journalists’ insulating themselves from the public. ‘Journalists’ even at Bridge leave the impression of detachment from readers, when was the last time a writer or editor even acknowledge a reader other than when a reader offered a grammatical or factual correction?
When has the Bridge discussed readers concerns or questions about reporting? Does the Bridge bring in readers to be part of an editorial meeting, or involve readers in the planning of articles, or ask readers to critique articles and have a conversation about their critiques?
Can Bridge staff describe a set of guiding principles that they use as a guide for how to develop an article, how to respond to the readers about an article, how to assess reaction to an article? Does Bridge/staff have a means to regularly verify practices conform to such principles, are the results offered for review to readers or others outside of Bridge[non-journalists]? Has Bridge offered their principles to or asked for guiding principles from other organizations?
Does the ‘free press’ realize they have facilitated this treatment on others with their reporting?
From a bit of personal and as part of an organization experienced with addressing prejudices [vilification], the perceptions, and consequences, I offer a couple of thoughts for changing the perceptions and consequences. Start the change by accepting that the perceptions are real to those that have them and they will give you the ways and means for changing their beliefs. The first step is to stop the denial and take to heart people truly believe their perceptions, next set down with them [not across a table but next to them] asking them why they feel this way and what can be done to correct it, then you must listen and they must believe they are being listened to. Recognize that listening as a reporter is different than the listening about yourself and what you are doing, and then you must turn what you hear into [verifiable] actions. You must personalize your actions in verifiable ways, verifiable by those whose perception you want to change.
The ‘free press’ including Bridge doesn’t seem to recognize readers [the public] are as smart and capable as ‘journalist’, the readers need to be included in how and what you do. Secrecy, such as anonymous sources, is no longer trusted, so that must change by being inclusive and open.
It is your choice to fight or change, winning the ‘hearts and minds’ is never achieved by trying to prove those you want to change wrong.

I apologize if this has shown up before, I simply want a trust 'press' because a well informed [not distrusting] public will make better choices and will help America flourish benefit people across the country and elsewhere.

Kim Silfven
Sat, 08/18/2018 - 10:56am

While much of what you write is certainly true, and while I also agree with much of it, I believe you are missing the point of the collective editorials re: Trump's attacks. They are really meant to both show solidarity among journalists as well as to alert readership they will not back down. These editorials are not in place of but in addition to the everyday credible reporting that they do. You certainly have a right to your viewpoint, but it comes across to this reader as if you are "holier than thou" and above the fray. No journalists are above the fray.

Charles Gibson
Mon, 08/20/2018 - 4:29pm

The ONLY reason that Trump and his ilk, calls our free press "fake news" is to strike back at those who report facts that put him in a bad light. In other words, Trump's ego is not, by any stretch of the imagination, presidential material. His repeated mantra of "fake news" only proves what a narcissistic man-child he really is. Either that, or he's losing touch with reality.

Matt
Mon, 08/20/2018 - 6:33pm

So what percentage of the press supported Trump or his efforts now?

Rick
Wed, 08/22/2018 - 11:07am

Fox News. 24/7 the propaganda arm of the Trump administration. 100% pro Trump every minute, every day.

duane
Tue, 08/28/2018 - 5:19pm

I worry no one at Bridge has asked what they might do differently to change perceptions and the awards from 'journalists' inoculates them from any concern about public/reader perceptions.

Silence reinforces perceptions.